Verlies, herlewing en oorlewing in Petra Muller se elegiese poesie

Botma, Riette (2022-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2022.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The themes of loss and mortality feature prominently in Petra Müller’s poetry, yet little or no research has been done on the subject. This thesis focuses on the elegiac element in Müller’s poetry, emphasising her use of conventions from the ancient but vigorous elegiac tradition in the elegies for her brother Nico, her friend and travel companion Susan, and her husband, Wilhelm Grütter. The research is contextualised by giving an overview of the development of the current elegiac tradition in Afrikaans, from the Classical Greek elegy via the English and Dutch literary traditions of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Rhetorical conventions from the Dutch funerary tradition, such as praise (laus), mourning (luctus) and comfort (consolatio), are used to create a framework for considering Müller’s use of the elegy. Three functions of the elegy that are relevant to her work are identified: the poem as a work of art but also a psychological work of mourning; the poem as an attempt at communicating with the deceased, the reader or other survivors; and the poem as revelation or illumination, shining a light in the darkness to help the poet as well as the reader to gain new insights. The research field entails the nine elegies for Nico in the collections Obool (Obol), My plek se naam is Waterval (My place is called Waterfall), Swerfgesange vir Susan en ander (Wandering songs for Susan and others) and Om die gedagte van geel (About the meaning of yellow); a selection of elegies for Susan in Swerfgesange vir Susan en ander; and a number of poems about the beloved’s illness and death in Die aandag van jou oë:gedigte vir die liefde (The gaze of your eyes: poems for love). Whereas the Nico elegies were written years after his death by drowning, both Susan and the husband suffered from terminal cancer and the poet was personally involved as witness, death companion, layer-out of the body and mourner, meticulously documenting the process. Their final months can therefore be regarded as a protracted mourning period forming part of the liminal phase (with reference to Arnold van Gennep’s concept of liminality) and corresponding with the phases of mourning as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The study shows that loss and mortality in Müller’s poetry are mitigated by revival and survival, as indicated by the dualistic motifs of water, grass and fire, symbolising death, transience and destruction, but also life, revival and resurrection. Petra Müller’s poetry demonstrates the power of the elegy to let the dead live on, while the voice of the poet continues to sing.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hoewel die temas van verlies en sterflikheid vooropstaan in Petra Müller se poësie, is daar ’n daadwerklike leemte in die navorsing oor haar werk. Hierdie studie fokus op aspekte van die elegiese element in Müller se digkuns, met die klem op hoe sy sekere konvensies van die eeueoue maar steeds lewenskragtige elegiese tradisie aanwend in die elegieë vir haar broer Nico, haar vriendin en reisgesel Susan, en haar man, Wilhelm. Die studie word ingelei deur ’n oorsig oor die ontwikkeling van die hedendaagse elegiese tradisie in Afrikaans uit die Klassieke Griekse elegie via die Engelse en Nederlandse tradisies van die Middeleeue en Renaissance. Retoriese konvensies soos die lof (laus), roubeklag (luctus) en vertroosting (consolatio) uit die Nederlandse funerêre tradisie word betrek om ’n raamwerk te skep waarbinne Müller se hantering van die elegie beskou kan word. Drie funksies van die elegie word ook geïdentifiseer wat in haar elegieë aangetoon kan word, naamlik die gedig as kunswerk maar ook deel van ’n sielkundige treurwerk; die gedig as poging tot kommunikasie met die gestorwene, die leser of ander oorlewendes; en die gedig as lig in die duisternis wat sowel die digter as die leser tot nuwe insigte bring. Die navorsingsveld word beperk tot nege elegieë vir Nico in Obool, My plek se naam is Waterval, Swerfgesange vir Susan en ander en Om die gedagte van geel; ’n keuse uit die Susan-elegieë in Swerfgesange vir Susan en ander; en ’n aantal verse oor die geliefde se siekte en dood in Die aandag van jou oë: gedigte vir die liefde. In teenstelling met die Nico-elegieë, wat jare ná sy verdrinking geskryf is, vind Susan en die geliefde se onderskeie siektegeskiedenisse neerslag in verse wat die digter se langdurige betrokkenheid as getuie, sterwensbegeleier, lykbesorger en roubeklaer registreer. Die tydperk voor hul dood vorm sodoende deel van ’n langdurige rouproses wat binne die kader van Arnold van Gennep se liminaliteitsbegrip deel van die liminale fase vorm en aan die hand van Elisabeth Kübler-Ross se fasebeskouing beskryf kan word. Die ondersoek toon dat verlies en sterflikheid in Müller se poësie telkens deur herlewing en oorlewing getemper word, soos blyk uit die herhalende motiewe van water, gras en vuur, wat enersyds as simbole van dood, verganklikheid en vernietiging aangewend word, maar ook na lewe, herlewing en wedergeboorte kan verwys. Petra Müller se poësie demonstreer die vermoë van die elegie om nie net die gestorwenes nie, maar ook die stem van die digter te laat voortleef.

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